Witnesses describe power of Rice tornado




Posted on October 24, 2010 at 10:22 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 26 at 8:57 AM

Rice tornado

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RICE, Texas — A tornado that ripped the roof off Rice Intermediate School and damaged a number of other properties in this small Navarro County community had a lasting impact on two men who had an unnervingly close encounter with the funnel cloud on Interstate 45.

Drivers could see it coming from the highway as the storm ripped apart the school.

The cyclonic winds then moved across I-45, where Michael Harper was driving from Plano to Kingwood. His SUV was crushed when a flatbed 18-wheeler hauling a massive dump truck was blown over by the wind.

"The next thing I knew it was on top of me, and we were up against the median," he said. "I thought it was two vehicles on me, but he actually has a dump truck as his load."

The impact flattened Harper's vehicle and the debris came within inches of the driver's seat. He crawled out the window and snapped a dramatic photo.

"If he had been off a few inches, the dump truck would've landed on the cab," Harper said.

Caught in the middle of the storm in his vehicle, Navarro County's emergency manager Eric Meyers pointed his camera phone out the window and captured incredible images of the roof coming off the intermediate school.

"It's a raw, sheer power feeling," he said. "It's just unbelievable. You can't describe what it's like to be that close."

In addition to damage to the town's intermediate school, the tornado also wrecked parts of the adjacent sports complex.

The campus had opened just nine months ago.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com